“Nice Nicole” was my go-to response in the name game that we always played at summer camp. We had to pick an adjective that began with the same first letter as our name, and then memorize the other campers' combinations. When we played, I could have picked "Nifty Nicole," "Nimble Nicole," or maybe even "Naughty Nicole," but I always found myself drifting back to "nice."
It was the safe option. I wouldn’t stand out, and others would like me. At school, I preferred to sit listening in the background than to voice my ideas. Comments like, “Nicole is quiet, but a good student and well-liked by her peers” popped up again and again in my report cards. I never faced animosity from anyone in grade school, unlike my bossy and bold friends who often did. I kept my accomplishments to myself, so that I would not become the target of jealousy or negative comments. I was modest, helpful -- and nice.
When I was in high school and began to excel even more, I still made sure to stay quiet and sweet. I took a meticulous rather than a conspicuous role in all my extra-curriculars. I worked well with others, but I often screened my comments and suggestions to remain amicable. My junior year, I became the Managing Editor of my high school newspaper. I took on a 35 hour/week commitment and a staff of 23 students.
At first, I relished in the new role. Every article I edited, every layout I fixed, and every newspaper we produced filled me with pride. But as the term went on, I found that although I was supposed to be pursuing innovation as Managing Editor, the majority of my time was spent behind the scenes editing. Instead of fighting for my opinions at our weekly editorial discussions, I worked in the background, even at the expense of my schoolwork. I remained “Nice Nicole,” but perhaps I should have called myself “Neutralized Nicole” during that camp game, because that’s how I felt: like a bland pack-mule, not the leader I wanted to be.
Finally senior year I burst. I finally let it all out and vocalized my frustration. This time, I wasn't nice. I felt as though I had been unrecognized, at times overshadowed and even used for my skills. My peers liked and confided in me, but I certainly didn’t feel like they viewed me as a leader. And so I’d had enough. Perhaps it was stress that led to my outburst, but it was the spark I needed.
After I voiced my frustration, I began to delegate more and have more faith in my peers, using my time to voice my opinions and take the reins on new projects.
I've become a better leader by speaking up and fighting for what I want. I’ve learned to be more comfortable taking ownership of my accomplishments. Now I leap for more opportunities and vouch for myself. After I let the veneer of niceness drop, I found that I formed better bonds with people—they know the real me and we’re more honest with each other.
There is value in being nice and understanding when working in groups, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of diminishing our thoughts and achievements. I know now I have to make myself heard and to keep knocking down the mental roadblock of wanting to be liked. I know now that to get what I want, I cannot not be afraid of judgment or failure.